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Skadden Fellows: Philanthropic Law

April 12, 1993|MICHAEL HAEDERLE

Who are the Skadden Fellows?

Each class of 25 is winnowed from a pool of as many as 250 applicants after a rigorous selection process.

Since the fall of 1989, 125 graduates from some of the most prestigious law schools have fanned out across the country, representing disabled children in the Chicago public schools, offering storefront legal services for runaway teens in San Diego and fighting for health benefits on behalf of people with AIDS in New York. (Last week, the National Assn. for Public Interest Law announced a similar program funded by a $3.1 million endowment; seven lawyers have been selected.)

Carrying out their work under the supervision of sponsoring legal services agencies, Skadden lawyers receive salaries of $32,500 with benefits, along with debt service on their law school loans. Fellows work for up to two years.

The New York-based firm--which has 1,000 lawyers--has offices in Europe, Asia and Australia, as well as in major U.S. cities. Wherever fellows wind up, they are assured support from the firm's nearest office, including assistance from lawyers, paralegals and clerical staff.

Susan Butler Plum, the program's director since 1988, helped recruit a blue-ribbon panel of trustees, including Sargent Shriver, Marian Wright Edelman and Archibald Cox, and has interviewed each of 325 semi-finalists over the past five years.

"The best thing about this program is the applicants design their own projects," she says. "We're not deploying them somewhere. They're invested in it."

Skadden, Arps--which approved the fellowship program over conventional philanthropy, such as endowing law school professorships--originally hoped other large law firms would follow its example. But that hasn't turned out to be the case, says partner Richard Volpert, who has overseen the West Coast Fellows since the fellowship's inception.

The program, originally set to run five years, has been extended for a sixth, although its long-term prospects are uncertain.

"I think it'll be an economic question after that, and a difficult one," Volpert says.

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